Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Middle School - the Most Important Transition

A new study out this week indicates that the transition between elementary and middle school may be tougher - and more important - than previously thought.

Seems like kids who transition from 5th to 6th grade (as opposed to a K-8 school structure),

show a “sharp drop” in math and language arts achievement in the transition year that plagues them as far out as 10th grade, even risking thwarting their ability to graduate high school and go on to college. Students who make a school transition in 6th grade are absent more often than those who remain in one school through 8th grade, and they are more likely to drop out of school by 10th grade.

This is an important finding. When I started my Master's program and indicated that I wanted to focus my study on middle grades, I was alone in my cohort of 35. Everyone else thought I was crazy, and more than a few expressed their belief that middle school kids should be set adrift on an island for the three years and then brought back to civilization for high school.

Many parents seem to treat this time in much the same manner. They stop helping with homework, and some get that divorce they have been waiting to get until the kids are older and can better "handle" it.

MISTAKE. Parents think they are off the hook when kids hit middle school, but they need to parent even harder during these years. Kids are biologically wired to begin the process of separation from their parents at this time, but kids also need parents very close, just in case. This can be difficult for parents when they have a sullen, moody, belligerent child who thinks they are a moron, but press on. Kids make the decision to drop out of school during the middle grades, and they start being heavily influenced by their peers into early drug and alcohol use and experimentation with sexual behaviors. Kids may change, seemingly overnight, from the cuddly sweet baby you remember to a surly foreigner who slams doors speaks Sarcasm fluently. Some kids come through adolescence with far less sturm und drang, but there will be at least a little storminess.

Keep your kids talking, stay involved in their lives, stay involved in their school and do not take a powder during these years. You need to reinforce early lessons on consequences for behavior, celebrate success, and encourage your kids to explore who they are and what they like. You may feel like your kids "should" be independent, especially with school, but they are not always ready to juggle the demands of changing classes and keeping trak of assignments, along with extracurricular demands on their time. Check homework and let them know you will help them (do not do their work for them. This seems like advice from the Department of Duh, but you might be surprised by how many parents write their kids' papers in middle school). Do not overschedule your kids; they need time to dream and think and wonder; it is hard to do that if you rush them from lesson to class to activity.

Many children (and parents) have survived adolescence. This study on the struggles with the transition to middle school serve as a reminder to be vigilant and supportive. Your kid is working hard to become an adult. Help them, and enjoy the ride!

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